6 Cracking Reads For Oxbridge Applicants – History

6 Cracking Reads For Oxbridge Applicants – History


This is the first entry in a series of undergraduate reading recommendations.

We asked our top tutors to recommend books and articles they either found useful when preparing for university admissions, or they realise would have been useful to explore, with hindsight.

These books aren’t just appropriate for Oxbridge applicants, but can be explored by anyone looking to get a feel for the subject at undergraduate level.

We hope you find the resource useful. We will be uploading a new blog covering a different subject each week.

For more undergraduate application advice and / or to enquire about tuition, please call us on 0208 133 6284 and we’ll be happy to help.


  1. ‘What is History’ by E H Carr

This is a seminal book by a renowned historian. He asked some of the key questions about the subject that are often overlooked. Required reading for any applicant.

Recommended by George (Studied History at University of Oxford)


  1. ‘The Idea of a University’ by J H Newman.

Cardinal Newman wrote this in the 1860s as the debate over universities raged. His redaction is erudite and thought provoking. His take on what a university should be will strike you as strange.

Recommended by George (Studied History at University of Oxford)


  1. ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy.

Great Man Theory; do individuals make history or do forces? That is a crucial historiographical battle to this day. Most people would say the true answer is both. However, you need to engage with Count Tolstoy’s unique perspective.

Recommended by George (Studied History at University of Oxford)


  1. ‘The Tyranny of a Construct: Feudalism and Historians of Medieval Europe’ by Elizabeth AR Brown

The American Historical Review Vol. 79, No. 4 (Oct., 1974), pp. 1063-1088 (26 pages).

Medieval History

Introduction to an interesting debate around whether ‘feudalism’ actually existed in medieval Europe. Part of the problem with the word “feudalism” is that historians don’t have a single definition for what it means. Some even changed their definitions of feudalism over their historical careers (e.g. Georges Duby, and Joseph Strayer)! Lots more to read after this – e.g. work by Susan Reynolds.

Recommended by Sam (Studied History at Cambridge)


5. ‘Telling Feminist Stories’ by Claire Hemmings

Modern British sociocultural history

A great introduction to feminist history and dominant narratives of ‘waves’ of feminism. If of interest, see also Nancy Hewitt, ‘No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of US Feminism’. Overall an interesting topic to talk about at interview.

Recommended by Sam (Studied History at Cambridge)


6. ‘Explaining the gender gap: the Conservative Party and the women’s vote’ by Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska.

See also:

Modern British political history

Why did women vote differently to men in the postwar period? A classic historical/historiographical debate that is easy to get to grips with, but has a surprising amount of depth to it.

Recommended by Sam (Studied History at Cambridge)

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